Home Video Hovel- We The Party, by West Anthony
And so it is here that I begin my precipitous slide into Cranky Old Man territory. I’ll be as fair as I can about it — this film was not made for me. But I believe that the audience for We The Party, the coming-of-age picture written and directed by Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City), deserves better. A predictable, dull-witted teen film that recycles many worn-out conventions but with the questionable innovation of a multi-ethnic cast, We The Party is too long, too obvious and too annoying to bother with.
A bunch of guys starting a wager over who will lose his virginity first? Check. An aspiring rapper trying to overcome his bad reputation because he’s really just misunderstood? Righty-o. Boilerplate message about how intelligence and character is more important than money and bling delivered by characters with more visible wealth and affluence than the film’s target audience may ever know in our current economic climate? Got it. A stoner puking into a punch bowl, a cartoony gay guy and a fat girl with a neck brace? Well, duh. This picture has it all and so much less. Set in the upscale, largely black Los Angeles community of Baldwin Hills (a nice part of town with some very lovely houses up in the actual “hills” part), the story concerns a group of youngsters with such stupid names as Quicktime and Chowder attempting to navigate the standard troubled teen waters whilst also trying to get laid and puke into punch bowls. It’s all the stuff that’s been done to death (what – the girl found out about the wager and is understandably pissed? I sure hope she’ll improbably forgive her beau before the end of the story!) but with black kids instead of white kids. So it’s new now. Right?
Wrong. In much the same way that Tyler Perry has taken the kind of mediocre stories Hollywood has traditionally made for white audiences and fashioned them into mediocre films for black audiences (and yes, I have seen a Tyler Perry film: Why Did I Get Married? Avoid it if you can), Mario Van Peebles has taken many a substandard post-John Hughes teen comedy and repurposed it for young black moviegoers. And they may well gravitate to it in much the same way that their parents may enjoy Perry’s pictures, but in both cases they’re being shortchanged — stock characters, hackneyed plots and unimaginative writing is just plain unacceptable regardless of one’s ethnicity. What’s wrong with expecting more? If it’s important to uplift the race — and it is — what’s wrong with uplifting their entertainment as well? Where’s the black Jim Jarmusch? Where’s the black Diablo Cody? Better yet, let’s find the black filmmakers who are unique entities unto themselves, much like Van Peebles’ father Melvin Van Peebles, whose 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is still one of the most potent representations of Afro-American life ever put on screen. Or Charles Burnett, whose 1977 Killer Of Sheep contains echoes of European cinema and the edgy independent fare of John Cassavetes without ever condescending to its audience in the usual Hollywood manner (and remains, along with Jacques Demy’s 1969 Model Shop, the most authentic depiction of Los Angeles in that era I have ever seen in a film).
Movies like We The Party are terribly frustrating because their tendency to remake oft-told tales with black performers feels more like a cynical grab for money than a legitimate attempt to connect honestly with their target demographic. The picture has swell production values, decent camerawork, wall-to-wall music and game, if uninspired, performances from its young cast (which apparently includes every Van Peebles presently walking the Earth)… but for what? The same tiresome routine we’ve seen a hundred times? At the very least, if the girl hadn’t gotten back together with the guy after finding out about the wager it would have been a bold narrative stroke that would also send a positive message to young girls, but they couldn’t even manage that. Everyone, whatever their skin color, deserves a good story. If you decide to watch this film, don’t say you weren’t warned.